Back for its 48th year, the Cumberland County Golf Classic/Championship is hosted by Cypress Lakes Golf Course, home of the late L.B Floyd and PGA Hall of Fame inductee Raymond Floyd and sibling LPGA golfing notable, Marlene Floyd. This is the annual tournament young, aggressive, upcoming golfers, casual golfers and competitive “seasoned” veteran golfers have looked forward to every year for nearly five decades. It’s the end of summer finale that will determine who claims the 2016 title of Cumberland County’s best golfer.
The competition is stiff, and even though there are many other tournaments locally and across the state, it is the Cumberland County Golf Classic/Championship that matters most to local golfers. It is the tournament people talk about around the water cooler at the office, before and after church and when they see each other at the grocery store. It’s the tournament they remember because it has become a golfing tradition. This event is about much more than golf; it’s about spirited competition. It’s about community, excellence, camaraderie and witnessing local golf history in the making. PGA Tour professional and local Fayettevillian Chip Beck won the Cumberland County Championship title in both 1974 and 1976 before he turned 20 years old. The tradition continues on this year with a new and exciting twist.
For the last several years, the responsibility of hosting this grand tournament has fallen solely on the shoulders of the host golf course. And, even though the local courses have accepted the responsibility on a rotating basis each year, the course managers and PGA pros saw participation and attendance steadily dwindling. They decided to work together to ensure that the tournament, not only remains a highly anticipated event, but also to reestablish the integrity and prestige of the tournament assuring that this golfing tradition continues and remains a part of Cumberland County culture.
Gates Four Country Club Manager Kevin Lavertu, along with PGA golf pros Robert Wilson of Cypress Lakes and Mike Monk of Kings Grant decided to come together to form a golf tournament coalition for the purpose of jointly organizing and planning the 48th Annual Cumberland County Golf Classic/Championship. It was a game changer with the biggest change being that they have involved all five of the county’s golf courses in the planning and execution of this year’s event. This year, they take full responsibility for it with each course committing itself to being all about teamwork, cooperation and coordination, assuring a first-class, high-quality and well-run tournament where they can treat local area golfers to great golf and a good time.
According to Monk of Kings Grant, which hosted the 2015 event, this effort and subtle changes are going to make a world of difference. He is passionate about the game of golf and sees this tournament as an investment in the community as a whole. “In the past years, we have seen participation dwindle down as much as 60 percent. Obviously, these are dangerously low numbers to maintain a quality event. We see this as a way to promote play in Cumberland County and to accentuate golf in Cumberland County. We have a lot of good courses and a lot of great players who come out of Cumberland County. Gary Robinson, the Carolina Senior Golfer of the Year and Brian Dreier, 2012 Cumberland County Champion, are both members here at Kings Grant. A lot of golfers want to see this tournament survive and move forward and be the best tournament it can be. We want to put Cumberland County on the map. This year, contestants will experience great golf, a good value and a much-improved difference. We are confident they will appreciate and enjoy the changes we have implemented.”
Monk’s philosophy is also one of inclusion. That is why he reached out to fellow Methodist University graduate and PGA Pro Jeff Johnson at Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course and invited them to participate. Johnson was elated since the Cumberland County Golf Classic was a big part of his youth. He played it as a young adult and knows firsthand what a great experience it is. When he became manager of Fort Bragg’s Stryker golf course, he set about to make it the kind of course that would add a new dimension to the tournament.
“I feel like we have finally arrived. Our conditions are on par with the other courses participating in the classic, and I am happy to be a part of that community and to be on that level.” Johnson sees this as a win-win for both local and military golfers. “I think we have a lot of really good players that don’t always play in Cumberland County and hopefully this will encourage them to try some of the other courses and meet other local golfers. Something a lot people don’t realize is that Stryker is open to the community, so we hope to see more golfers come out play on our course. Our superintendent, Craig Manning, was instrumental in turning this course around and we want to share that with local players,” added Johnson.
Lavertu was on board from the very beginning in preserving the Championship. Gates Four will host the 2017 Championship. He will also host the inaugural Pairings Party and Opening Ceremonies that are set for Sept. 15, the evening before the tournament. “The Pairings Party is a great way to get everyone excited about the tournament,” he said. “People come and we will have prizes, food, putting competitions and fun things like that to get everyone relaxed and excited about the tournament. This year the courses are working together to attract more golfers and grow the event.”
This year Cypress Lakes has the honor of hosting the first Cumberland County Championship in its new format under the direction of PGA Golf Professional and Course Manager Robert Wilson. Played over a three-day period from Sept. 16-18, it will remain a 54-hole stroke play event. The U.S. Golf Association rules of golf and etiquette are in effect. As in previous years, there are four divisions: A Championship Division, Open Division, Senior Division and Super Senior Division. The tournament remains one of the best values for Cumberland County golfers because, in addition to the guaranteed three rounds of golf, each participant receives a free practice round at the host golf course, food and refreshments all three days of the tournament provided by Healy Wholesale and Pepsi, the Pairings Party and a gift package. All for an entry fee of $150. Contestants who register before Sept. first receive a certificate for a free foursome (excluding cart fee) at each of the five participating golf courses. Wilson couldn’t be happier. He expects these changes not only to reinvigorate the loyal local competitors but to draw in a healthy crowd of new golfing participants as well. The staff at Cypress Lakes is excited and on point. Wilson promises the course is in great shape with the grounds well-groomed and ready for first-class golfing excitement come tournament day.
“Our superintendent, Ed Drake, is in charge of keeping the course ready for play and he is really on top of the day-to-day maintenance and responsibilities that go into having the course ready for competitive play,” said Wilson. “I just don’t see anything but positives coming from the way we are doing things this year. We should be able take better care of the golfers, feed them better during the tournament and build up the golfing community here in Cumberland County. We even hope to be able to make a financial donation to a local Cumberland County charity at the end.”
Champions in the making
Not only are the golf courses looking forward to a great golfing experience this fall, but the players are, too. Fayetteville native and businessman Gary Robinson holds the record for the most Cumberland County Golf Championship titles with a total of eight victories. His first title was in 1982.
“Of all the amateur tournaments I play, this one holds a special place for me,” said Robinson. “People will stop you and talk with you about it. The community is very supportive. I’ve been lucky enough to win it eight times so far. I hope to make it to 10 wins before I am done, but I’m 57 years old, so I am not sure it will happen.”
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West, 42, is the tournament’s second-biggest winner with six championship titles. West grew up admiring Robinson’s skills on the course.
“He has always been the Jack Nicklaus of the tournament to me,” said West. “He set the standard. I looked up to him, and as I began to play in the tournament, we developed a real friendship and camaraderie.”
West shares Robinson’s dedication, enthusiasm and loyalty to the Cumberland County Golf Championship.
“The Cumberland County Golf Championship is my favorite tournament. It is the most important and always has been for me because of the community support,” said West. “I used to play a lot of state and national tournaments, and it was an honor when I would win, but when you win or compete in the Cumberland County Championship, you get stopped around town or at work or church and that is what made it special. It always had a unique place among golf tournaments here in town. There aren’t a lot of places that have special tournaments like this one that mean that much. Some of my very good friends came out of this competition; in fact, they are some of my best friends. I am friends with their families and have been for a long time. I’ve been playing in this tournament for 25 years. That is a lot of time to get to know people.”
While the friendly Robinson/West rivalry is a given any time these two men are on a course together, it looks like this year things may be a little different. According to Robinson, he is committed to another tournament out of state and it is on the same weekend as the Cumberland County Championship. This news came as unfortunate and very disappointing to many in the golfing community. However, West knows that Robinson’s absence doesn’t make it a shoo-in for him to win.
“Gary and I are very good friends and we are competitors, but I regret that he may not be there. I do think if he were there he probably would be the odds-on favorite to win. It does open the door to the rest of the field. It will definitely be different without him.”
Not one to get comfortable with his odds, West has been keeping his eye on some new emerging talent that very well may give him a run for his money.
“Thomas Owen is a member at Highland Country Club where I play a lot. He is a great young man and a very good player,” West said. “He won the last two Cumberland County match plays and placed in the top five of the Cumberland County Classic last year, and I think Cypress Lakes suits his game. We’ve played a lot together and he has been hard for me to beat. It is not unusual for him to hit the ball 30-40 yards past where I hit — and he has the rest of the game to go with it. He would be my favorite without Gary being there, but we all know how golf can go… and then there are the usual suspects.”
Here are a few things that are new in 2016:
• Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course has been added to the rotation of participating Golf Clubs.
• Contestants can now register at any of the five participating golf courses: Cypress Lakes, Gates Four, Kings Grant, Baywood and Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course.
• Only Cumberland County residents are eligible. No longer will the tournament allow players who work inside the county but live outside the county to participate.
• Early Registration Bonus: Contestants who register before Sept. 1 will each receive a certificate for one free round of golf for a foursome (excluding golf cart fee) at each of the five participating golf courses.
• Each participating golf course will receive one free exemption to play in the tournament.
• Businesses or organizations wishing to sponsor the tournament will also receive 1-4 exemptions depending on the sponsorship level. Sponsored and course exemptions must reside in Cumberland County.
• Refreshments are provided courtesy of Healy Wholesale and Pepsi.
• Food for contestants is provided all three days.
• A pre-tournament Parings Party and Opening Ceremony plus plenty of prizes and surprises.
To find out more about the tournament or to register, contact any of the participating golf courses, or call 391-3859. You may also register using the application form on page 11.